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Adopting a “Compound” Exposome Approach in Environmental Aging Biomarker Research: A Call to Action for Advancing Racial Health Equity

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In June 2020, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine hosted a virtual workshop focused on integrating the science of aging and environmental health research. The concurrent COVID-19 pandemic and national attention on racism exposed shortcomings in the environmental research field's conceptualization and methodological use of race, which have subsequently hindered the ability of research to address racial health disparities. By the workshop's conclusion, the authors deduced that the utility of environmental aging biomarkers-aging biomarkers shown to be specifically influenced by environmental exposures-would be greatly diminished if these biomarkers are developed absent of considerations of broader societal factors-like structural racism-that impinge on racial health equity.


The authors reached a post-workshop consensus recommendation: To advance racial health equity, a "compound" exposome approach should be widely adopted in environmental aging biomarker research. We present this recommendation here.


The authors believe that without explicit considerations of racial health equity, people in most need of the benefits afforded by a better understanding of the relationships between exposures and aging will be the least likely to receive them because biomarkers may not encompass cumulative impacts from their unique social and environmental stressors. Employing an exposome approach that allows for more comprehensive exposure-disease pathway characterization across broad domains, including the social exposome and neighborhood factors, is the first step. Exposome-centered study designs must then be supported with efforts aimed at increasing the recruitment and retention of racially diverse study populations and researchers and further "compounded" with strategies directed at improving the use and interpretation of race throughout the publication and dissemination process. This compound exposome approach maximizes the ability of our science to identify environmental aging biomarkers that explicate racial disparities in health and best positions the environmental research community to contribute to the elimination of racial health disparities.

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